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Starting the New Year with a plunge in the ocean and Star Wars, the Force Awakens

Updated on January 2, 2016

There is this belief that whatever you do on the first day of the new year, sets the tone for the rest of the year

So why not go jump in the lake... or the ocean, more specifically the Atlantic Ocean in the winter, though El Nino was kind to us this year an instead of little icicle stings it was more like a dip in the pool in the middle of May. Still, it was symbolic of washing away the old and emerging clean and ready to start anew.

A few years ago, Dan Hernandez started an unofficial Walrus Plunge to rival the larger Polar Bear Plunge held at the Tybee Pier in Savannah, Georgia. While about 1000 people pay to attend the Polar Bear Plunge in the afternoon on the first day of January, the Walrus Plunge has about a dozen people, mostly runners and their children who show up early to run the beach and then take a full, head under the water plunge into the Atlantic Ocean.

This Friday morning was dark at 6:30 a.m. Traveling down Highway 80 to the beach is eerie with a dense cloud cover, like overhead fog. There are no stars in the sky and it is raining fairly heavily so there is a dark sheen on the road which makes it hard to see where the road ends and the grass and concrete begin.

Deep puddles line Victory Drive and threaten to pull cars off the road with the force of their suction. The first bridge leaving Thunderbolt puts one in the total darkness with only patches of oval lights diffusing upward into the night sky; the reflection of lights from the business sections of Wilmington Island, downtown Savannah, Southside and more. There are five ovals scattered in a star-like pattern in front of and behind drivers so that it looks a bit like a crop pattern or alien invasion. There are hardly any cars on the road and no sun to rise, or at least no visible signs of the sun anywhere in the sky.

I arrive early, thinking I will take a bathroom break and walk a bit on the beach before everyone else arrives, but as usual, I drive past the parking lot and end up in what looks like a utility work station surrounded by apartments. By the time I get out of the winding roads and make another wrong turn, two people have arrived before me. I stop to put on shoes that don't want to go on my feet. Socks can never be too overrated. Putting shoes on already wet feet with no socks is not an easy task.

I have spent most of the week in a foul mood. It actually got better toward the end, but started out Sunday when I decided to skip church and got called into work because no one else would answer their phone. It was a rough day, not easy, so that made me mad, when I should have felt blessed to get a few more hours to help pay off the inevitable bills from Christmas spending, taxes, tags and insurance which all come due way too soon after Christmas ends.

I needed time to reflect on where my life was going and what direction I planned to take. I knew I needed to make changes, but wasn't willing to make all of them all at once and it seemed, whenever I thought about losing weight, I ended up eating more as if a preemptive strike was needed to store up fat in times of impending starvation.

So too, when I thought of being kinder and nicer to people, it seemed they irritated me more and took greater advantage. When I was guarded and unwilling to comply, it made people want to leave me alone and get someone else to do their dirty work, so it almost seemed counter productive to be nice sometimes, but I didn't like being rude or lazy or making others do my share as well as theirs, so it was a balancing act to find the right level for self preservation.

In any event, it was nice to be with friends outdoors. I had thought about sleeping in since it was raining, but really, if you are going to jump in the ocean in sixty degree temperatures, a little rain is not going to hurt you!

We gathered under a little pavilion for the obligatory Facebook photo, then took off for a run. I was elated. It felt so good to run in the rain with the beach sand under our feet. There were some slower people in front of me and I really wanted to run, not jog, so went around them and cut back over as a group I run with was making their way over a tidal pool wash-out filled with ocean and rainwater. I decided unwisely to jump into the water, not afraid to get my feet wet, but ended up catching the ball of my foot on an unyielding packed down sand ridge and jammed my foot back into my ankle. A sharp pain hit either side of my foot.

Dan stopped to see if I needed help, but I waived him on. This was not the first time I had done this to that same foot, which had been having issues with the tibia and fibula where it joins to the foot. I was hoping it would go away and hobbled to the ocean to soak it in cold salt water. After about three minutes it felt better so I jogged to catch up with Missy. Missy is an unlikely friend. We are so different, yet running and island hopping brought us together.

My foot felt so much better, that I decided to run to catch up to the group, but about 100 feet later, my ankle caught and the pain returned and it hurt even to walk. I figured I could lament how lousy my New Year was beginning and how I could not keep up with the people I wanted to be with or I could enjoy being out on the beach in January and enjoying what most would consider dreary weather.

If you think about it, it was raining and cold and dark and gray and my ankle felt like it had just been snapped in a rat trap, but here I was happy to be on the beach, walking in the waves with the brown pelicans flying in formation in front of a cargo ship so the birds looked like they were pulling it along the water, even though it was far out and they were close by the shore. One cargo ship was entering the mouth of the river at the end of the north beach and looked as if it had been grounded on the beach. The people walking on the beach behind me looked like they had just debarked off the ship. It was almost like a refuge moment and very strange. It is funny how your perspective of objects can make you see them differently.

There is no magical formula for a new year/new you. It's as constant as washing dishes and clothes

It would be wonderful if there was some magic formula for making the New Year turn out great. If you got up on the right side of the bed, put a penny in your shoe, head side up of course, prepared hoppin' john, black eyed peas, rice, greens, then you would be healthy, wealthy and wise, right?

Ha! Dream on. While setting good habits can lead to a better outcome, we are all victims of our own personalities as well as selfish desires. It takes a lot of hard work and repetition to correct for bad behaviors and on this first day of the new year, I already started out badly in areas where I am already weak. This is when you are grateful for the grace of Christ who forgives all things, no matter how terrible, or how often you fail to correct for them, but still you have to wonder about yourself when you keep doing the same destructive things knowing that they are bad for you.

.As we left the ocean and pulled on dry clothes we raced (or in my case gimped) back to the parking lot. It was kind of ironic. There, facing the huge, vast ocean, the tossing turning seas, was a beacon of light to guard us from running aground and doing damage. That light guided us in the path we should take and let us know we were in reach of home. God's light does the same and yet so many people refuse to obey it and run aground and curse his name and blame him for their predicament. I didn't want to be one of those people, but I knew I needed to patch up some holes to keep on sailing without spinning around in circles or taking on water and risking sinking below the surface, so it was not going to be an easy haul.

What better way to start the New Year, than with The Force Awakens

If churches inspired the way Star Wars did, they too would awaken and save the world!

There is no better way to ring in the new year than with a feel-good movie; one that gives you hope and puts you in an other-world kind of mode as if you half expected to walk out the theater as a rebel fighter ready to take on a world of evil and right all wrongs, though it can be a little problematic when you drive your car like a jet pilot. I think the cash register attendant at the supermarket even saw it in my face, or maybe it was just that she wondered what I was going to do with 15 boxes of veggie "bacon" and soy "chicken" nuggets and why I was buying them on a holiday when most sane people are at home recovering from the night before, but at 1.99 a box it would feed me for six weeks and keep me out of the grocery store this weekend so I would have no excuses not to finally clean the house which was looking more like a disarranged storage unit than a comfortable home.

In any event, I had forgotten how much I had forgotten about the original Star Wars, which honestly seemed like it came out just ten years ago, not however many millions it actually was. I don't keep up with time well, which I suppose is good in some ways. It was odd too because there were things I remembered that I didn't really know I remembered. It was a bit like the Force guiding me, though I am sure it was actually more of a reawakening of brain cells that had not been used in a while. There were a few times too when I caught myself laughing at a joke no one else in the theater got.

Mind you, most of the people in the theater were dads and their pre-teen sons; probably giving mom the afternoon off to do her own thing. By the way, that is actually one of my New Year's resolutions, to stop feeling superior over other people. There are plenty of times I have not gotten something someone else did and even more times when I have said or done something totally stupid, though in my defense I am usually aware of the stupidity of it the moment it leaves my mouth, but it is too late to retrieve it. We all have our moments.

There were a few favorites for me in the movie and I will not give away the plot, but in one, Han Solo is telling Kylo Ren, a Darth Vader look-a-like that he can do nothing so wrong that he cannot be forgiven. I love when Star Wars blends Christian themes into the movie: "No greater love has a father for his son"... "searching for the light".."knowing in your heart the right thing to do", etc. I really loved it when Ren said he felt the light growing within him and had to fight from having it take over him. You usually think of it as the other way around, that darkness tries to creep into the light and you have to fight it back, but you never think that light is trying to flush out the darkness and people are fighting back the light. Kind of a neat perspective that maybe even people of the light have experienced for themselves when they choose to make a the wrong decision and know that it is wrong, but do it anyway. I don't want to reject the light in me though. That would be like hammering the nails into Christ myself. It's sad when people reject the very person or thing that was sent to save them.

The other part I really liked was when Rey, a kind of Skywalker/Princess Leah hybrid, discovers she has powers and can resist the darkside. It gave me goose bumps because sometimes we all feel like the darkside has us in a chokehold that we can never escape, but if you dig deep and find God or the force within you, you can stand up to anyone or anything and not be afraid no matter what.

I walked out of the theater wanting to pick up a light saber and fight evil and restore the light to the nation which seemed to turn away from light and toward darkness, especially lately. It was a real sense of awakening to the power that Christ has given all who will follow him. It was the perfect way to focus on the things that are important in life and the responsibility that all of us have to make the world a safe place for all to live and not to give in to the few who would crush us under their bootheel and derive pleasure doing it.

I wondered if churches left their people feeling as awakened as that movie did, would we have half the problems we have today? That was a powerful motivating factor to do good in the world.

Here's hoping the new year awakens a desire in you to do better things with your life and in turn make the lives of everyone around you better. The brighter the light shines on the world and in our hearts, the less room for darkness. That's not a rude awakening, that's a good one and a noble goal for all.

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